Thursday, November 25, 2010

The rebel prince, subtitled: my pilgrimage, subsubtitled: my night as the original vagabond.

Dedicated to Priya Selvakumar

 Warning:  Protracted gush ahead and possibly the longest thing ever written.

I first heard Rufus Wainwright in 2003, when I was watching a ciplat version of Shrek.  I know that it's Jeff Buckley on the soundtrack but for some reason, on the disc I was watching, Rufus was the one singing Hallelujah over the montage of Shrek and Fiona thinking about each other.  I was transfixed.

(Can I just say that yes, I get that Jeff Buckley's version is good and he was a very talented lad and I have some very lovely memories associated with it, but that honestly, I like Rufus' version better and you can just get over it.  Hah.)

I looked up some of his other songs and fell in love immediately. 

Priya and I would sit, giggling around youtube, squealing each time he sang the "Puh-leese" in California just because he looked so damn hot doing it.  But more than that, I just loved his music, unbelievably poetic and moving, and his voice with it's vibrato and slightly nasal swooping and dipping.  And his skills as a pianist continue to astound me.

I've identified with so many of his songs that I couldn't help but fall in love with him, to the point that my classmate, Gruff, said to me before the concert: "You DO know he's gay right?"  Yes, I do, and Priya and I were sorely disappointed.

 Another group of musicians I love as much as (or probably more) are The Beatles and Paul McCartney is so big that I was bound to see him sooner or later, but I thought I would never get the chance to see Rufus because he is so little known and I doubt he would ever tour Asia.  (In fact when I found out Wainwright was good friends with Sean Lennon, I almost died.  There are videos of them performing together on youtube.)

So, I have been waiting seven years, and believing the wait would never come to an end.

On a spontaneous, lucky, whim, I looked his site up and found that on the 22nd he would be playing the Royal Albert Hall and I set out on a pilgrimage, to leave for London straight after class on Monday, make it into the concert and catch the last train home.  I couldn't quite believe I was going to see him, right up until I was standing outside the Royal Albert Hall holding the ticket in my hand.  I think I'm still in shock a little bit.

But more on that later.  SO.

Top: Primark.  Skirt: Primark.  Tights - Marks and Sparks.
Boots - Dr Martens.  Necklace - Accesorise.  Earrings - Topshop.

What I wore.  I apologise that the dreaded white wall photos have finally arrived, but on hindsight, they're not actually that bad, are they.

I looked triumphantly at my train tickets as I ate a sausage roll while waiting for the train.

Other things amused me at the station.  Each time I read something by Larkin, I think of Junior College.

I finally made it to the Royal Albert Hall after nearly two hours of travelling.  It's a beautiful venue, round like a sort of coliseum and glows in the dark with a tempting benevolence.

It thrills me that Rufus packs a venue like this now... for the longest time he was struggling to get noticed and I think very few people know him even now (the grammy nomination probably helped).  In fact, he's going to be back for five days in July at Covent Garden.  Needless to say, I will try to be there.

I was surprised by the number of older people who turned up, because they loved his more eclectic stuff or because they wanted to see him do Judy, I wasn't sure.  By this time, I was too tense and excited to care.

Martha opened.  (I'm afraid I was in the nosebleeds and my camera has next to no zoom, so the photos are going to be meh.  But hey, I was there.)

She was amazing.  I still think her music is a bit nutty but she has the most amazing, underrated voice, all soft and honeyed and piercing all at once and extensive in its range.  I didn't know that she'd done a whole album of Edith Piaf covers and when she sang some of the Piaf stuff, my heart just broke.

Plus, she is one hot Mama.  Look at her, the woman just had a child!

She sang La Vie En Rose without any microphone or instruments because Rufus dared her to, she said, and it was rather wonderful.  It was evident from the way she talked about him that they're very close.  Then there was a break and I got so jittery I didn't know what to do.

I should probably explain at this point that Rufus broke his show up into two segments, the first where we WEREN'T ALLOWED TO APPLAUD at all the whole way through, which was going to be a song cycle and have some art projected on the big screen at the back.  We were expected to sit completely silent, and in the dark, without taking photos.  Not completely unexpected, I guess, given that he often does wacky things during shows like getting crucified (before Madonna did) and hopping around in robes.

This was interesting because when Rufus came on stage, the theatre wanted to scream, but sat still instead, vibrating like mice with the tension.  He was wearing a black dress sort of thing with a long black cape, walked slowly towards the piano, sat down and started playing in near darkness. 

You will forgive me for not remembering what the first song was.  I was overcome by a sudden wave of emotion on hearing his voice live; I couldn't breathe and my heart was pounding crazily.  It was like all those moments of lying in the dark listening to cds and crying my heart out to his songs when I was sad and playing Vibrate over and over again on the piano had finally come to something.

For about fourty-five minutes, he played in the darkness in almost complete silence, just him and the piano, cycling through mainly All Days Are Nights and what I presume was some of his Shakespeare stuff.  His piano-playing has grown so accomplished that it was like watching a classical pianist sing. 

The very disturbing art on the wall behind him comprised his heavily blacked eye opening and closing like an insect and watching us like the Eye of Sauron.  Hmm.

What was interesting, however, was that it was like watching someone play his deepest darkest music by himself, in his living room, with the lights off.  I felt like a fly on the wall, it was intensely private and heartfelt, not least because lots of the songs were about his mother being sick in hospital, his father growing old and his life changing profoundly.

At one point, some clown tried to applaud and was promptly shushed.  He (Rufus, not the clown) ended with a very slow, soft, Zebulon and walked slowly out the way he'd come, after which, there was brief pandemonium.

In the second set, he came on, the wonderful, handsome, charming, funny, goofy Rufus I know.  That drawling, slightly nasal, ironic voice and the little jokes and dances... It was incredible.  This time, he opened with Beauty Mark and moved on to Grey Gardens and then The Art Teacher (at which everyone gave sort of a collective sigh.  I didn't get why.  I mean, I love the Art Teacher and all, but it is far and away not my favourite song). 

I was screaming like a child and I think the couple next to me began to regret the seats they had been allocated.

The song choice for the evening was a little strange, and I do wish he had sung some things like Vibrate, California, Millbrook, Tiergarten, Hometown Waltz or even Want, which makes me weak, but I really couldn't complain.

Basically, it was a dream.  He did some of his Judy stuff in the most wonderful, subtle, swooning voice, completely changing his normal tone and then stopped in the middle of a song to try and re-hit a note he wasn't pleased with, got the giggles, held up his hands and said "I'm fallible ladies and gentlemen," to applause.

He did a goofy dance in the beginning of one song and couldn't hit the opening note on time, then said "That first step took a lot out of me, so I hope you guys enjoyed it."

And he sang Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk (the one video Priya and I have been watching over and over with him in the red shirt for seven years), Going to a Town and Dinner at Eight, which almost made me cry.

Martha came back on and they sang Hallelujah together and Complainte De La Butte in the most amazing harmonies with the ease of people who have been performing together for years. 

And in his encore, Martha, holding her new little son Arcangelo (what an amazing name, after his grandfather), harmonised on Poses with him, one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

He talked about how the last time had been on the stage was just before his mother died from cancer, and how things had been hard for him and Martha as a family. 

And he sang one of Kate McGarrigle's songs at the end, the most beautiful courting ballad she had written for Loudon called Walking Song.  His voice wavered slightly on the second last line, he murmured, "Ain't life grand?" into the mic and hit the last poignant note before wiping away what I presumed were tears.

It was beautiful.

I didn't have time to sit around floating in ecstasy though, because the concert ended at eleven and I ran like a clown, through the tube trying to get to my train home on time. 

Long story short, I didn't make it.

So there I was, an orphan in London at midnight, nowhere to stay.  I know right, way to take the joy out of a great evening.  I stalked to Burger King to grab dinner where a man and a woman swiftly got into a huge fight because she had cut into the queue.  I stood there long enough to hear her say to him "YOU MUST HAVE A SMALL PENIS OR SOMETHING!" and for him to retort "THE SIZE OF MY PENIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!"  Before sidling away, laughing.

Commence a search for a hostel in the frightful cold and dark filled with drunken men.  I was holding a brown paper bag full of fries, and so I think the first hostel I rocked up to thought I was a drunkard or something.  I was also very tired and besmirched.  The Eastern European lady looked pointily down her pointy nose at me and turned me out on the street. 

I finally found at hostel that had one bed left, and shared my concert high with five snoring ladies, one of whom woke up and leaned over to ask me if I was okay because I had a running nose and she thought that I was crying for home.  "Good to see you!"  She said cheerfully in a sleepy Chinese accent before going back to sleep.  Huh.

Peeled my stockings and skirt off and went to bed.

I decided to make the most of it the next morning as I made my way to the train station to round off my adventure.  London is pretty, after all.

The French will be offended, but this is the best croissant I have ever eaten, hands down.

And of course, the view from the train back home.

So that was it.  I learned three things on my trip:

1)  The concert really was incredible
2)  I now love Rufus even more, if that's possible
3)  If it's late and you are tired enough, any bed will feel like home. 

Not bad for a dream come true.  And as I told Dhany, I will probably fall dead on my keyboard shortly because all my wishes have been granted and you know what they sa - *ACK*  *COUGH* *ACKKKK* ajkdhsjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj


priii said...

do you know i almost teared when i read your post? for 2 reasons:

1) you dedicated it to me! i'm so touched!

2) i was listening to rufus while reading your post. i had to. how could i not? and i could almost imagine being there!!!

thank you thank you thank you for letting me live vicariously through you!

Jenny Morris said...

Rufus equals dream show!!! glad you enjoyed it :)

Shoe said...

@ Priii - Awww babe I'm so glad you enjoyed it, it was after all, specially for you! I missed you SO MUCH all through the show.

If you're going to be in London in July, I can tell you he's going to be playing Covent Garden for a week!!!

@ Jenny - OMG I know! Really a dream show for me... Have you seen him?

Anonymous said...

What an awesome adventure, Shuls! I also like his version of Hallelujah best :)
~American M

Isabella Kiss said...

looks awesome! ps: love the Doc. Martens and that owl necklace is oh so cool!

Shoe said...

Thanks American M! YAY! Hallelujah soulmates! It WAS a great adventure though I took awhile to recover :P

Thank you so much Isabella! Doc Martens are so versatile, aren't they? I love them too...

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